“Average American” Near Extinction

CleaversApple pie, Mom, the 4th of July. Those symbols are still with us, but the homogeneous, stereotypically “American” lifestyle they evoke — a white non-Hispanic nuclear family of a married couple and their two kids — is receding further and further into the past. Next year’s census, a new white paper from Ad Age predicts, will hammer the final nail in the coffin of the typical American — and thus the typical American consumer — for good.

The demographic change, which began decades ago, means companies and advertisers looking to reach consumers will have to continue to hone their pitch to the niches, or create campaigns with truly broad appeal, or — most likely — bot

For the Triple Bottom Line, the change could be a positive one: widely successful companies will have to be seen as fully tolerant, not merely of racial and ethnic differences, but lifestyle choices. A radically diverse market also gives more power to branding that cuts across demographic lines — like environmentally friendly products.

California and Texas Lead the Way

Visit a Southern Californian mall on a weekend afternoon to see the future of the country, today. Non-Hispanic whites, once the majority ethnic group, are now just one slice of the crowds ducking in and out of Banana Republic and Mrs. Field’s. In California and Texas, the country’s most populous states, as well as New Mexico and Hawaii, non-Hispanic whites are now a minority group. In several other states, including New York, white non-Hispanics are now less than 60 percent of the population. Overall, white non-Hispanics are expected to fall below 50 percent of the national population by 2042.

By age, the future also looks more diverse. While 80 percent of Americans over 65 are white, only 54 percent are 18 and younger, and Francese predicts that “white non-Hispanics will surely account for fewer than half of births by 2015.” These numbers are perhaps more important for advertisers, who are often more interested in particular age groups.

Where We Live, Who We Live With

But the changes go beyond race. The most common household will be a married couple with no kids, Francese predicts, followed by singles. Married couples with children will make up a mere 22 percent.

The 2010 census will also confirm the continuing shift of the population balance from East to West. From the Ad Age summary:

Over the past decade, Mr. Francese says, 85 percent of the nation’s population growth occurred in the South and West. “During the still-nameless decade from 2000 to 2010,” he writes, “a total of about 3 million people have moved out of the Northeast, and another 2 million have left the Midwest” for the South and West.

Power of the Market?

Ironically, while greater diversity, both in who we are and how we live, could increasingly fragment the country socially, capitalism might have a role to play in pulling it back together. Niche advertising is one way to increase sales, but finding a product that appeals to a wider segment of the population — or marketing it in a universal way — will generate even more.

Brad Johnson, the study’s co-author, said in an email that “the reason for niche marketing is clear, given the nation’s growing diversity–race, ethnicity, types of households, lifestyles.”

“But marketers also have an opportunity to make mass marketing as inclusive as possible–or put another way, to include as many consumers as possible. Mass marketing needs to reflect and embrace the diversity of consumers. So-called general-market advertising today is more inclusive than it was decades ago, but it needs to be even more so.”

We’ve already seen how advertising, in an attempt to reach all eyeballs, almost ritualistically includes a member of every major racial group in big campaigns on TV and in print. In pursuit of profit, the free market could end up creating a single people, at least on the consumer level, out of a heterogeneous population.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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